Actor who picked up minor roles in films had secret past as gangster

Chinese actor Galen Yuen – who appeared alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger – has a secret past as a San Francisco gangster

  • Galen Yuen had been involved with street gangs while growing up in the California Bay Area
  • After time behind bars, Yuen became an actor and ended up penning a screenplay starring Rob Lowe and Burt Reynolds 
  • His turn around in life has been brought to attention in a new podcast launched by his niece  

A Chinese-American actor who picked up minor roles in films for decades had a secret past as a San Francisco gangster, his niece has revealed in a new podcast.

Galen Yuen, who died in 2015, established himself as a minor role stalwart throughout the 1980s when he appeared alongside the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But before becoming a thespian, Yuen was an established member of the Suey Sing gang which operated in Chinatown, pimping out sex workers and carrying a gun. 

It was during this period of his life in the 1960s that Yuen battled drug addiction and went to jail as he was pulled into a life of crime. 

The unknown past of the late actor has recently received new attention after his niece, journalist Maya Lin Sugarman, launched a podcast about his life. 

Galen Yuen had established himself as a minor role stalwart and occasionally even wrote screenplays during his career on screen

Born into a Chinese immigrant family in Oakland in 1952, as a teenager he fell in with street gangs of the time when criminal activities ran rampant in the Bay Area. 

According to his niece, Yuen was said to have acted as a pimp, and was known to start fights, as well as using guns to extort money from people. 

After years of gang activity, Yuen later served time in jail in the early 70s, and the Suey Sing disbanded after one of its leaders was deported.  

According to The San Francisco Standard, it is believed that the gang-related activities in Chinatown were largely eliminated following the arrest of Raymond ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow ten years ago. 

Despite this assumption, the standard say that the Suey Sing, Hop Sing, Hip Sing, Bing Kong and Chee Kung gangs are still prominent in the area. 

After being released from prison, Yuen did not go to college but instead found a job working at an auto body shop while living with his mom in Oakland. 

In 1985, Yuen had been watching the soap opera General Hospital when he noticed that the plots of the show would occasionally involve Asian Americans.

This realization caused him to pursue a new life in Hollywood and moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of a new life. 

As a teenager he fell in with street gangs of the time when criminal activities ran rampant in the Bay Area Chinatowns

In the words of his sisters, he moved to the city to ‘get a fresh start’ and that he was ‘running from something’. 

Sugarman said her late uncle was confident that he could be more authentic than other actors on the screen at the time because he had lived the life.

She said: ‘And he realized, ‘wait, like everything I just went through, I could do that on the screen.’

Moving to LA in the 1985, he launched his new career and according to his IMDB profile starred in 26 different TV and movie productions.

Whilst most of his roles were minor, he appeared alongside big Hollywood names including Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop.  

Frustrated with his continuous smaller roles in films, he started to write screenplays in an attempt to create more opportunities for himself. 

His dream became a reality in 1998, when a script he penned was turned into the crime movie ‘Crazy Six’.

The film starred Rob Lowe, Burt Reynolds, Ice-T and Mario Van Peebles and is set during a section of Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.

Galen Yuen and Werner Herzog in September 2005 on the set of Herzog’s film Rescue Dawn

After the film was whitewashed, Yuen decided to use his tenacity that made him an effective criminal to help fellow Asian Americans in the industry.

Yuen formed the Asian Talent Force agency and attempted to help negotiate better roles and finances for fellow Asian Americans. 

He went on to write Riot, a four-part TV movie about the unrest that followed the Rodney King verdict in 1992. 

Later in his career, he also starred alongside Christian Bale in ‘Rescue Dawn’, which was directed by Werner Herzog. 

Yuen never married and had no children, and died of a blood infection in 2015. 

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